NAPLES — A North Naples bookstore sold out of Newt Gingrich's new book Saturday, but the line of supporters waiting for a moment with the GOP presidential candidate kept growing.
More than 500 supporters lined up through the second-floor bookshelves at Books-A-Million on Saturday at the Mercato in North Naples. Some waited with books in hand — others with just a ticket and a number to get in line — for a photo, a handshake and an autograph.
The book signing began at 11 a.m. exactly as planned. Crowds gathered around Gingrich and he shook hands and looked each eager supporter in the eye and said, "hello." He waved to everyone already waiting in line as he moved up the escalator.
After a quick speech, as a few Occupy Naples protesters stood behind him with fake money covering their mouths and "99 percent" written in permanent marker on it, he and his wife sat down and were handed a pen.
By noon, the bookstore had sold 600 copies of both "A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters" and "The Battle of the Crater." Even without a book to sign, some supporters relished the few moments they were able to meet the man they hope will be the next president.
"I always thought of him as intelligent," said Maryanne Lostaunau, 70, with "A Nation Like No Other" in hand. "I think he has a good shot at being the next president. He's a historian, he thinks on his feet and he makes sense."
Lostaunau was one of the first to meet Gingrich and his wife, Callista. Both sat at a large wooden table at the top of the stairs of Books-A-Million in front of a fireplace and a large Naples sign with palm trees waving at a windy beach. Spending no more than a moment with each supporter, they smiled and said, "nice to meet you."
Grant Papastefan, 14, wasn't the youngest person there, but he certainly was among the passionate.
"I'm really into politics," Papastefan said with the excitement most 14-year-old boys have for sports or video games. "The foreign policy debate did it for me. I'm really excited."
Papastefan is in town from Lake Forest, Ill., with his family for a vacation and gave up his last beach day to meet Gingrich, who is rising in the polls as he seeks the GOP nomination in 2012.
"I shook his hand," the 14-year-old said. "I wish I could vote."
Jamie and Todd Reifschneider, both 34, while waiting near the end of the line, fed their 11-week-old fraternal twins, Rush and Reagan.
"We love (Gingrich)," Jamie Reifschneider said while bouncing Reagan. "We like his conservative principles and hope our children have the same conservative principles."
She said the twins also met Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann.
"It's worth waiting in line because it's not every day you get to meet a presidential candidate," Jamie Reifschneider said.
Debby Smith, 69, was able to meet Gingrich and have her book copy signed, almost two hours after Papastefan. But like the Reifschneiders, she said the wait was worth it.
"I think he's our hope," Smith said. "He's our hope for the next election, and to get America back on the right course."
To the protesters, who weren't permitted to remain inside the bookstore, Gingrich is all wrong. After leaving the store, the 14 Occupy Naples protesters stationed themselves outside the entrance to Mercato.
"He's a draft dodger," said Jerry Stinson, 84, a World War II veteran.
"One word: hypocrite," said Naples resident Erika Ferrari, 55, while holding a sign. She was discussing with another protester the $300,000 in fines Gingrich was ordered to pay by the ethics committee when he was Speaker of the House.
"He has no ethics," Ferrari said.
"If you're not willing to fight for your country," Stinson said, "then, don't come wave your red, white and blue at me."
Inside the store, three hours after the start time, Gingrich still was signing books and greeting supporters.
"We expected there to be a lot," said Pat Moirano, a manager at Books-A-Million. "But, not as many as there are."